Today, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx will travel to Puerto Rico to announce new Administration actions to support infrastructure projects in Puerto Rico that can help create jobs now and lay a foundation for economic growth and recovery. Secretary Foxx is the latest senior Administration official to travel to Puerto Rico, following Secretary Lew’s trip last month which I participated in, and the first in a series of upcoming trips from members of the President’s Cabinet to Puerto Rico in the coming months.
Puerto Rico is in crisis, and that crisis is harming the 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico. President Obama has made clear that we have a responsibility to act, and he has stressed the imperative for Congressional action to solve the crisis in his conversations with both Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress. To provide Puerto Rico with the tools it needs to restructure its debt, support reform, and enable growth, Congress must act.
In the meantime, the Administration remains committed to doing all that we can to support Puerto Rico and lay the foundations for economic growth. While in Puerto Rico, Secretary Foxx will sign an agreement between the Puerto Rico Highway and Transportation Administration (PRHTA) and the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) to provide Federal technical assistance to improve PRHTA’s billing practices and to provide project management support to ensure that highways projects in Puerto Rico are able to expedite access to almost $400 million in Federal funds, available to Puerto Rico for infrastructure projects, creating jobs and spurring economic development and growth over the long-run. The agreement will help ensure that important infrastructure projects such as the $35 million PR 10 reconstruction, which connects the northern and southern halves of Puerto Rico, continue on schedule. While in Puerto Rico, Secretary Foxx will meet with Governor Alejandro Javier García Padilla and discuss progress being made on important transportation projects since the Secretary’s last visit to Puerto Rico in 2014.
In April, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will visit Puerto Rico to discuss efforts to strengthen travel and tourism to Puerto Rico. In May, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will visit Puerto Rico to highlight USDA’s investments in supporting agriculture and rural development in Puerto Rico, and to address climate and drought-related challenges affecting the Commonwealth. This travel comes in addition to last week’s announcement by Secretary Burwell on important actions to strengthen healthcare in Puerto Rico, including proposed reforms to the Medicaid program to raise the federal funding share and lift the federal cap.
The Administration has worked extensively with Puerto Rican officials to identify solutions to the Commonwealth’s crisis. Through the Puerto Rico Task Force, we helped attract jobs-creating investments in important emerging industries and secured new funds to accelerate infrastructure projects in Puerto Rico. The Department of Commerce’s SelectUSA, with engagement from Vice President Biden, was able to secure the investment from the German based company, Lufthansa Technik, to open a new maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility this past November in Puerto Rico that will create 400 permanent jobs. The Department of Transportation has identified more than $750 million for Puerto Rico in available toll credits for use in funding new infrastructure projects.
We continue to bring the full capabilities of the Administration to bear to speed Puerto Rico’s economic recovery. Secretary Foxx’s announcement is part of the Administration-wide effort coordinated by the National Economic Council and the Department of Treasury, along with the White House Taskforce on Puerto Rico.
But make no mistake, Congressional action is urgently needed to provide Puerto Rico with the tools it needs to solve the crisis. In October, we released a Congressional Roadmap to provide Puerto Rico with a comprehensive restructuring authority to address all its liabilities, appropriate fiscal oversight, a long-term solution to Puerto Rico’s historically inadequate treatment under Medicaid, and tax incentives to jumpstart economic growth. The President’s FY17 Budget provides additional detail on these proposals.